When I was a child in the mid-1950s, there was an American television programme called You Are There. The pretence was that a reporter, who in my mistaken memory was always Walter Cronkite, would be on hand as a historical event unfolded. No matter what the century, the reporters were from the 1950s, with notepads or microphone in hand. 'General Washington, General Washington,' Mr Cronkite would call to George Washington, who was about to step into a boat to cross the Delaware and capture the Hessians, 'do you have a moment?' And, of course, General Washington, although understandably preoccupied, would have a moment. And unlike actual generals and politicians, he would be thoughtful, truthful, eloquent and frank. He would share with the television audience what he was doing and what he was hoping to accomplish. Then at the end of each show a narrator would say: 'What kind of a day was it? A day like all days, filled with the events that alter and illuminate our time. Everything is as it was, except . . . You are there.' I loved this stuff. As a child, I didn't know that it was written by blacklisted writers who saw their scripts as ripostes against the McCarthyism that had so nearly undone them. These were blows for freedom and cautionary tales about the evils of persecution. It worked with me.
LRB 21 March 2002 | PDF Download